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Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7648-4
216 pages
March 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Why Politics Can
Why Politics Can't be Freed From Religion is an original, erudite, and timely new book from Ivan Strenski. Itinterrogates the central ideas and contexts behind religion, politics, and power, proposing an alternative way in which we should think about these issues in the twenty-first century.
  • A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of these concepts
  • Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today&'s society
  • Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
  • Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
  • Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
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Acknowledgments

1. When God Plays Politics: Radical Interrogations of Religion, Power, and Politics

2. Interrogating ‘Religion’

1. Religion Trouble

2. ‘Seeing’ Religion: Six Common Clichés

3. Gagging at the Feast of Two Unexamined Assumptions: Religion, All Good or All Bad

4. The Religion-Is-No-Good Cliché

5. The Second Set of Two Clichés: Religion Is Belief and Belief in God

6. ‘Religion’s’ Private Parts

7. Powerless in Paradise

8. Two Ways to Eliminate ‘Religion’

9. Is Religion Our Phlogiston? An Historical Test Case

10. Talal Asad’s ‘Religion’ Trouble

11. The Trick of Defining ‘Religion’

12. Owning ‘Religion’

13. How Durkheim Took ‘Ownership’ of ‘Religion’

14. Religion and Its Despisers

3. Interrogating ‘Power’

1. Confronting the Paradox of ‘Power’

2. How ‘Power’ Plays Havoc with Thinking about "Institutional Violence"

3. Whom Should We Blame? ‘History’ on Trial

4. History’s Helper: We Should Also Blame Foucault

5. Problematizing Power in South Africa

6. Foucault versus Foucault

7. Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Hierarchy

8. What More Is to Be Done? Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Social Force

4. Interrogating ‘Politics’

1. Defining ‘Politics’

2. Where There Is No Politics: Despotism and Totalitarianism

3. Autonomous Politics

4. Where Our ‘Politics’ Makes No Sense

5. Politics, the Construct

6. Two Pernicious Views of ‘Politics’

7. History Lessons for Professor Morgenthau

8. What Constitutionalism Owes the Council of Constance

9. The Emergence of the Political . . . from the Religious

10. Machiavelli and Luther: Critical Contributions to the Autonomy of Politics

11. Foucault’s Fault II: ‘Everything Is Political’

12. The Hidden Fascism of Thinking that Everything Is Political

13. Public and Private: No Absolute Line of Demarcation

14. Resisting the Panopticon

15. Afterword: The Autonomy of ‘Politics’ and the Nation-State

5. Testing Interrogations of ‘Religion,’ ‘Power,’ and ‘Politics’: Human Bombers and the Authority of Sacrifice in the Middle East

1. Is ‘Suicide’ Bombing Religious?

2. Making Too Much of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: ‘Islamofascism’

3. Dying to Make Too Little of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Robert A. Pape

4. No Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Talal Asad

5. How Religion Helps Explain Human Bombing

6. Human Bombing Is "Catastrophe," but also a "Triumph" of "Secular Immortality"

7. Human Bombing = Jihad + Sacrifice

8. Sacrifice or Suicide?

9. But Do Any Muslims Really Think Human Bombers Are ‘Sacrifices’?

10. Sacrifice Makes Authority

11. How and Why Sacrifice Works: The Authority of Sacralization

12. How and Why Sacrifice Works: No Free Gifts

13. Concluding Remarks

References

Index

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Ivan Strenski is Holstein Family and Community Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of numerous books, including: Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism and Social Thought (2002); Theology and the First Theory of Sacrifice (2003); The New Durkheim: Essays on Philosophy, Religious Identity and the Politics of Knowledge (2006); Thinking About Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion and Thinking About Religion: A Reader (both Wiley-Blackwell, 2006).
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  • A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of what these mean
  • Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today’s society
  • Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
  • Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
  • Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
See More

“Overall the book is an excellent contribution.”  (Political Studies Review, 1 January 2013)

“But as a powerful myth-buster of some of the great fallacies about religion and politics, or even as a primer in the study of religion for undergraduates, it works very well and would serve to provoke lively debate.”  (Modern Believing, 1 April 2012)

"The book is written in an accessible and engaging style, and readers who are new to the field of religion and politics will find it readable and helpful". (Religion, September 2010)

"Going beyond the religion-is-good and the religion-is-bad clichés, while also distancing himself from fashionable academic eliminationists, Ivan Strenski examines the connections among religion, power and politics. Is religion merely ‘used’ by fanatics, as if it were an inert hammer that can be picked up or dropped at will? Is it to be equated with belief? Or with power, à la Foucault? Or is it, rather, inseparable from authority? Most readers are likely to have their presuppositions shaken by Strenski’s Manifesto."
Gustavo Benavides, Villanova University

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February 12, 2010
Why Politics Can’t Be Freed From Religion

 

Religion. Power. Politics. Ideas and institutions that have been laden with a baggage of meanings picked up through the course of history – and which, unfairly or not, are often defined by these historic and social contexts. Ivan Strenski begins his book, Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion (March 2010, U.S.; February 2010, UK), in his Los Angeles living room in the summer of 2009, watching the demonstrators protest the recent election of President Ahmadinejad. As he watches the struggle between the powers that be (the police and militia), and the demonstrators, Strenski questions what he really “sees” as he looks at the events unfold.

Can these events, and acts such as human bombing or suicide bombing in the Middle East be distilled and simply described as “politics as usual”? Or are there other ideas at work, including religious and social motivations that have been repeated througout history in unimaginably complex ways?  Do power, religion, and politics form a multi-layered reality in which we all function, whether we realize it or not?

A spokesperson for the Christian-right, the Reverend Pat Robertson, has claimed that “Islam is not a religion,” due to its overuse in a political context. Strenski likens the relationship between politics and religion to the hammer and the nail, each exchanging roles when it is appropriate or convenient to the agenda at hand.

Through a process of intense critical interrogation, Strenski digs beyond the simplistic claim that “everything is politics” and proceeds to unpack our assumptions about the interplay between politics, power, and religion. Eventually the reader truly sees the distinguishing features of each and can think with them, and apply these concepts to suicide bombing in the Middle East, the meaning behind Abraham’s sacrifice of his son,  or the power behind the papal state.

Strenski pin points Six Common Clichés that often trip us up when entering this conversation:  

The Religion-Is-Good Cliché: Based on the view that all religions are “religions of peace,” (as exemplified in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, and Gandhi) the flipside of this cliché is that political entities are violent or war-loving, and “hijack” religion (Ku Klux Klan, the IRA, the Crusaders) for their own ends. President Goerge Bush spoke in similar terms during a post-09/11 speech, “I want to speak tonight directly to Muslims … its teachings are good and peaceful.”

The Religion-Is-No-Good Cliché: An opinion perpetuated by “the new atheists” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Strenski questions the opportunism inherent in Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything,” and the  apparent Islamophobia buried in his arguments. Plenty of religions such as Quakerism, Zen Buddhists, and the Amish live in a non-descructive, and peaceful manner. Strenski advises that we think of religion in a more relaxed way: our definition of religion needs to be accurate, but not necessarily precise.

Religion Is Belief and Belief in God: Strenski points out that the prerequisite of personal faith as a trait of a true religious person (chosen over ritual practice) is fairly recent and largely influenced by the Reformation period. The focus on “confession” or “testimony” is also a relatively modern idea. Tony Blair felt the need to eventually “shout it from the rooftops,” that he was a practicing Roman Catholic, rather than simply practicing his faith.

‘Religion’s’ Private Parts: The idea that faith is essentially private in nature, independent, and a direct reflection of the “innermost workings of the heart,” rather than linked to the events that take place in the “public square,” and in the world of politics.

Powerless in Paradise: The common assumption that historically power and politics have had, cannot, and should not, have anything to do with eachother, when realities such as suicide bombing in the Middle East reveals a very different reality.

Two Ways to Eliminate ‘Religion’: The formalists say that religion should only be used as an outdated, arbitrary “marking device” or concept, much like our old view of science (Isaac Newton), but ignore its contemporary relevance, particular in relation to power and politics.

Strenski’s treatment of religion, politics, and power in Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion (March 2010, U.S.; February 2010, UK), includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad, Michel Foucault, David Émile Durkheim, and Louis Leakey.

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